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Famed Moosewood restaurant stops asking applicants about arrests

Moosewood is no longer asking job applicants about their criminal history.

About a month ago, the nationally-known restaurant in downtown Ithaca joined the “ban-the-box” movement and removed questions about criminal history from its job application, according to Laura Branca, board president of Moosewood, Inc.

For years, Branca said, Moosewood used an application provided by an old payroll service. “No one really looked at it,” she said in a phone interview on Labor Day.

One day, Branca – who has been following nationwide “ban-the-box” movements – decided to look more in-depth into what the application to the restaurant actually asked. She noticed that, on the front of the application, a question asked about prior criminal convictions.

“The fact is that a felony conviction or an arrest record doesn’t really tell you much about whether someone is going to be a good worker, has skills, talents, or is going to show up on time and be a reliable employee,” she said. “It’s just a barrier. It’s not really relevant for our business.”

So, Branca said, she simply got rid of the question. “It was easy,” she said.

Moosewood’s change comes during a time in which “ban-the-box” movements are impacting hiring processes across the United States.

“Ban the box” measures have been implemented in over 100 cities and counties nationwide, so employers “consider a job candidate’s qualifications first, without the stigma of a conviction record,” according to the National Employment Law Project.

The Tompkins County Legislature, as the Ithaca Voice previously reported, looks likely to implement the policy for people that apply for public jobs within the county.

“I recognize that there are people who are felons – they’ve made a mistake and they’ve paid their dues, but they’re probably getting eliminated for consideration from really good jobs they’d be qualified for,” James Dennis, vice chairman of the county legislature said in a phone interview.

“I think almost everyone (in the legislature) would support” banning-the-box, he added.

In the forty-two years Moosewood has been in business, Branca explained, the restaurant has hired several people with felony convictions.

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